Kennedy blames manifesto slip on sleep deprivation

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy tried to get the Liberal Democrats' campaign back on track after his stumbling performance when he launched his party's manifesto left some senior colleagues exasperated.

Charles Kennedy tried to get the Liberal Democrats' campaign back on track after his stumbling performance when he launched his party's manifesto left some senior colleagues exasperated.

Mr Kennedy, who struggled to explain his flagship local income tax policy on Thursday, admitted yesterday that he "made an error through sheer obvious tiredness" following the birth of his son, Donald, on Tuesday.

When James Naughtie, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, asked him whether he should have "got your brain in gear before you opened your mouth," the Liberal Democrat leader replied: "I think that sleep deprivation does at times play its part, and that was certainly the case yesterday."

Some colleagues expressed sympathy, blaming the party's campaign team for calling a press conference at 7.30am, for which Mr Kennedy had to get up at 6am after a night heavily interrupted by his baby.

Others said it was a mistake not to have Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, on the platform to answer questions about the detail of the policy.

But some senior Liberal Democrat candidates were privately critical of Mr Kennedy, saying it was not his first blunder since becoming party leader and that his grasp of policy was not good enough.

"We are doing better in the opinion polls than in 2001. That means our policies will get more scrutiny and we have got to get across the detail," one said.

Labour sought to exploit Mr Kennedy's embarrassment. Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, said in a speech in Lancashire: "Charles Kennedy need not detain us too long.

"What limited claim he had on economic credibility finally evaporated when it became apparent he knew even less about his tax plans than some members of the public." Ironically, in an interview with The Independent this month, Mr Kennedy said his party would be "raising our game". Some candidates fear that if he makes another slip during the election, the "gaffe" will now be magnified.

The Liberal Democrat leader gave a more confident performance at a press conference yesterday at which the party outlined its environment policies.

Despite unfavourable newspaper headlines, aides said no members of the public raised his performance during his visits to Harborough and Falmouth.

Allies believe that the manifesto launch will not damage the party because Mr Kennedy is a popular figure with much goodwill towards him after becoming a father.

Don Foster, the party's culture spokesman and a candidate in Bath, said: "No one is raising it on the doorstep. "People know he was knackered and just laugh it off. They are more interested in the baby." Mr Kennedy said in Falmouth: "I think the vast majority of people, from all the comments I have heard round and about, say, 'We have all been there with our first child at some point, it is a tiring business'.

"The thing about the arrival of the new baby, nonetheless is that it makes you feel more fulfilled and more gusto actually for the campaign."

Mr Kennedy dismissed his apparent confusion as a "minor hiccup" that had not undermined his credibility.

"I am raring to go. I got a little bit more sleep last night and that's made today a lot easier and our campaign team are all quite relaxed with the way things are going," he said.

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